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Keywords:

  • depression;
  • maternal health;
  • posttraumatic stress disorder;
  • prenatal care;
  • psychological;
  • socioeconomic factors;
  • stress;
  • violence

Introduction

Maternal psychosocial stress has been associated with adverse maternal-child outcomes. Vulnerable women's experiences with stressors during pregnancy and their desires and priorities for appropriate and useful stress reduction interventions are not well understood.

Methods

Qualitative interviews with low-income, urban women explored their stress exposures and reactions during pregnancy, ways that stressors overlapped and interacted, and their priorities for stress reduction. Quantitative measures (Perceived Stress Scale; My Exposure to Violence Instrument Danger Assessment; Center for Epidemiologic Studies of Depression Scale, Revised; and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist-Civilian) supplemented qualitative descriptions of women's stress exposures and reactions. Analyses explored relationships between stressors and women's priorities for stress intervention. Lay advisors from the sample population reviewed qualitative interview guides for appropriateness, completeness, and language prior to interviews and reviewed study findings for validity. Study findings were returned to the community in newsletter form.

Results

Twenty-four low-income, urban women participated in interviews. Women in the sample reported high stress, lifetime violence exposure, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. The most common stressors reported were financial strain, violence exposure, and feelings of intense isolation and loneliness. Few participants reported having discussed psychosocial stressors with prenatal care providers. Participants in this study described connections with other women as desirable to relieve their stress and provided input on ways health care providers could facilitate such connections.

Discussion

Clinical and research implications of findings are discussed, including approaches that health care providers may find useful to facilitate connections among vulnerable pregnant women.